What would you do if you didn’t just know, but believed and lived like you knew the truth that you aren’t what you do.
What would you drop? What would you walk away from? What would you shift your focus away from?
If you follow me on Instagram and watch my stories, then you might have already heard me ask these questions. But they bear repeating, because we don’t seem to get it.
What we do – our actions, our words, our choices – they get to be a beautiful reflection of who we are. But when we get the order confused, when we start behaving as if we are what we do, then we get caught in a very dangerous cycle of building a life based on external validation.
When we live like we are what we do, then we open the gate for people pleasing, for allowing ourselves to be people pleased, for comparison, for dissatisfaction, for chasing our identity is sources that have no ability to tell us who we are, and for – wait for it – manipulation.
I know, you probably weren’t expecting that last one, so let me tell you what I mean.
When we live like we are what we do, then we place a burden on the things that we do that they can’t live up to. We expect the things that we do to fulfill us, and when the things that we do include other humans, we expect those people and our experiences with them to be identity building and affirming. And friends, that isn’t anyone’s else’s job. And when we do things with the expectation that others will give something to us in return – whether we do that consciously or subconsciously – that is textbook manipulation.
Let me give you a few examples, because I know this can be a difficult one to see in yourself. Because believing the lie that we are what we do is often times wrapped up in good intentions. But as a wise and wonderful therapist once told me, if you step on your dance partner’s foot while dancing, it doesn’t matter what your intentions were. It still hurt.
So let’s take a look at what I mean, and then see if we can see ourselves in these examples.
Maybe you see yourself as a giver, so you do everything in your power to help others. You take meals when friends are sick, you send cards when friends are having a hard time, you run errands for others, you do it all. Basically, when there is a need, you are the person that hops in your car to meet that need. Only…you feel drained by all of this. You are continually disappointed by the way people never seem to notice all you do or reciprocate your love and giving.
Or maybe you are a mom and you love being a mom. But you are tired of doing ALL the cooking and ALL the cleaning and paying ALL the bills and making sure that life continues to run smoothly while also trying to meet your own personal needs. You love your family and the life you chose, but you find yourself continually giving more than you feel you have and receiving less than you need.
Or maybe you see yourself as a really good friend. And so you go with the flow and do your best to never rock the boat and let everyone else always pick the restaurant and remember everyone else’s birthdays and are almost always the one reaching out to say hello and ask to get together and while you love being such a good friend, you always seem to end up feeling hurt that no one sees you and knows you the way you know others. You long for someone to be the type of friend to you that you are to others.
Or maybe you have a job and your husband has a job and you have a few kids and a good group of friends and life seems to be progressing in the normal, expected way, except it’s starting to feel like all you do is the normal, expected things. You do a great job at work, you meal plan healthy and quick family dinners, your kids are thriving at school and at t-ball and wrestling and basketball and swim practice. You wish you had a bit more time for friends but you accept that this is just the season of life and wave to them from across the crowded school gym at the science fair or catch up in between innings at your sons’ baseball game. The nagging feeling that you wanted your life to have a little more, well, life to it, sometimes keeps you up at night as you think about how you had hoped things would turn out, but you assume that if everyone else is living like this then maybe it just is what it is.
Do you see the pattern here? When we live all outside of ourselves, when we form our identity around what we do instead of who we are, then we continually live a life where we expect other people and experiences to support our identity.
Maybe you really do love taking meals to other people. Me too! Maybe you really do love being a mom. Me too! Maybe you really do love being a good friend. Me too! Maybe you really do want your life to have a little more freedom and life in it.
Here’s the problem. We can truly be all those things. But we are those things, not because we do them and other people see us doing them and affirm us in the doing of them. We are truly those things because of the deep, intrinsic, permanent, internal truth of who we are and who God has made us to be.
Let me tell you why I’m so hot for this issue right now.
The month of May came at my family H A R D. We tend to be pretty healthy and escaped the winter months unscathed. Not a single cold or sniffle. And then May hit and we have just been DOWN. The kids keep passing this nasty cold virus back and forth and then one day, I felt something amiss in my own body and I just knew.
It was coming for me.
So what did I do? Rest? Eat some nourishing soup? Drink extra water?
No. I cleaned the house like a crazy person. “I’m getting sick!” I thought. “No one else is going to clean the kitchen and while I’m at it I should clean the exhaust fan filters and OMG this floor is dirty I should sweep and mop and while the floors are drying let me try and cram all the dirty laundry into one load and OH MY GOSH THERE IS SO MUCH I HAVE TO DO BECAUSE I AM MOM!”
Then I got sick. And then I got even sicker. And then I spent 8 days in bed. Like, in BED, bed. Then I dislocated a rib and sprained my rib joint because I had such an intense and constant cough for 8 days. And then I was really, REALLY helpless.
And you know what that showed me?
One day, I was in bed, feeling pretty miserable. Both physically and mentally. I felt terrible that I couldn’t take care of my family. I felt terrible that other people were having to step in. I felt terrible that I had to cancel a special birthday outing with a friend whom I really, really care about being a good friend to. I felt terrible that I had to cancel volunteering at an event I was looking forward to being a part of. I felt terrible that my kids saw me being so sick and saw me not DOING anything. I felt terrible asking friends for help. I felt terrible asking my husband to stay home from work.
I wasn’t able to DO the things that I felt were “me.” Therefore, I didn’t feel like “me.” Why? Because I was using all of the things I do to give me a sense of identity, meaning and purpose.
But then, for a season, those things were taken away from me. And I learned the powerful truth that even when I can’t do the mom type tasks that I love to do for my family, I AM still mom. Even when I can’t do the typical fun and caring things for my friends, I AM still a friend. Even when I can’t do the typical things that I value doing like yoga, volunteering, writing, cooking, hanging out with friends, going to church on Sunday, or homeschooling, I AM still me, because who I AM is based on things that can’t be taken away from me.
I’m going to get a little bit nerdy here, but stay with me.
You remember learning about the “be verbs,” right? Well…don’t you find it a little bit interesting, that “am” is a be verb?
What I’m saying is this – who you are is directly linked to your inner being. Not your outer doing.
Or maybe you’d like a spiritual connection to take this one step further. in the New Testament part of the Bible, in the book of John, Jesus refers to himself as “I AM.” When asked who he is, Jesus doesn’t first tell you what he does. He says who he is. And by using the phrase, “I AM,” he is calling back to an earlier part of the Bible. A part in the Old Testament where God is telling a group of people not only who he is, but who they are, too.
Our actions are important. Yes. So important. But our actions should flow from a rooted and rested place of who we know we are instead of from an expectation to be seen and filled for what we do. Do you see the difference? Can you feel it? Can you think of areas of your own life where you are desperately trying to use what you do as a way to add value and meaning and purpose to your life, when really, what you need is to work from the inside out?
When we allow our actions to be a reflection of who we are, instead, we are free from needing other people to approve or respond to us in a way that validates our identity. We can take people meals out of the overflow of our core identity as a giver, feeding others because we have first been fed. We can be friends to others out of the overflow of our core identity as a friend, befriending others because we have first been befriended. We can mother our children out of the overflow of our core identity of someone who is grace and strength and love because we have first been given the name of grace and strength and love.
With this in mind, I’m going to ask you again: what would you walk away from if you knew and truly believed – deep down in your bones – that who you are comes from an internal, intrinsic place of being and not an external place of doing? What things do you do simply because you feel obligated to do them? What things do you do simply because you are trying so desperately to show others who you are? What things are you doing because you are desperate for others to do for you?
Allow these questions to help you narrow your focus. To help you live out of your “bullseye,” the place where you intentionally say no to a few ok things so you can say yes to less but better things. Allow these questions to help you determine the truth of who you are so that you can act in a way that reflects that truth.
I know this is an intense question, so go gently my loves. But ask it of yourself anyway – if all of what you are currently doing was taken away from you, who would you still be?
The answer, I hope, is that you would still be – you.
You would still have the same purpose, same value, same calling on your life.
This is not to suggest that you stop doing the things you love – CERTAINLY not! This is a suggestion to evaluate why you do what you do. Are you doing it because it’s a life giving reflection of who you are? Or are you doing it because you are expecting it to be who you are? Or to put it a little differently, are you doing certain things because it’s who you feel you are expected to be? Are you doing things because the things themselves validate who you as a person? Are you doing things because of the hoped for response that would validate you as a person?
Or are you living from a place of rested being? Of knowing who you are. Of knowing that who you are can’t ever be taken away from you. Of knowing that you are who you are even if no one else sees the real you or validates your thoughts and feelings. Of knowing that you GET to do the things you do because you GET to choose to respond from a fulfilled place of being. Free of expectation. Free of external validation.
Here is a helpful exercise I’ve created that can be used to determine whether you are thinking and acting from a place of internal being or external doing.
Find a quiet place to sit and just SIT for a few moments. If you are like me, this will be quite excruciating. 😉 Allow all the thoughts to come to mind of all the things you think you should be doing in this moment. Then, quiet your mind once more and allow your thoughts to be turned to truth. Who do you know you are? Who have you been create to BE? Notice the difference between the two lists. And then, choose to act from the latter, and be freed from the former.
Grace and peace, my friends. Grace and peace you have been offered, and so grace and peace you can receive.